Wednesday, October 20, 2004

A Traditional Muslim’s look at “Progressive” Sexual Ethics

Are Muslims too prudish? Do we raise our hands to cover our ears and say “Astagfirullah” at the very mention of the word “sex?” Have we really become the Muslim equivalent of Victorian England complete with repressed sexual impulses? Well according to the self styled Progressive Muslim Movement, we need to loosen up. According to them, our righteous predecessors and our Prophet (sallalahu alayhi wasalaam), were not afraid of talking about sex and sexuality. As we all know, classical Arabic literature contains many works of erotic love and romance such as Sheikh Nafzawi’s The Perfumed Garden. Historically, Muslims have always sought the advice of scholars as to what sexual practices were in accordance with Islam. But what the PM’s are bringing to the Muslim masses would make even a secularist blush. On their website, there’s quite an interesting display of stories such as placing a Quran commentator in a humiliating sexual fantasy, a Muslim embracing his desire to become a transvestite, another Muslima seducing her lover to fornicate and a lesbian checking out the scantily dressed sisters at a Muslim bridal shower. According to them, we have been living in the sexual Dark Ages and now we must do as our Western brethren have done. We must embrace Western contemporary norms of sexuality where every expression is justified, even if those expressions go against the commandments given to us by Allah subhana wa ta’ala.

So much of what we are seeing in America and other Western nations is actually the result of a revolt against Victorianism. The Victorians believed that all sexual activity, even that between a husband and a wife, were potentially evil. They ruled out the idea of recreational pleasure and foreplay between married couples. Even the act of procreation itself was seen quite negatively becaused they believe that it removed at least a year of a man’s life. But that began to change with Freudian psychology and his theory of infantile sexuality. Also with the advent of the Birth Control pill, gender relations in the West would never be the same. During the 1960s, women were urged by feminists to “own their sexuality” by saying that they should be just as sexually active as men (or at least how they thought ALL men behaved). While the Victorians skewed all sexual curiosity as Satanic vice, our generation would become obsessed by the sexual impulse. You know the phrase, “If it feels good, do it!” We were all on the highway of sexual enlightenment that would bring about healthier, happier human beings and equality between the genders.

Or so they thought.

It is our generation that is surveying the war torn landscape of sexual chaos here in America. How many of us went to public schools where girls who were not old enough to vote were on their way to becoming mothers? Or the famous “easy” girls who earned that reputation well after their years in high school? What about the fatherless families or the rising divorce rate? The writing is on the wall and all the goals of the “Sexual Devolution” have not been fulfilled. When women decided to be as sexually available as promiscuous men, they found themselves abandoned when their lovers did not reciprocate their affections. And even though we have every STD and birth control preventative available to us, we still have high rates of STD infection and the plague of AIDS looming over our heads. Which is why I think, in all honesty, that it’s irresponsible (and yes, judgmental) to criticize Muslims who still hold on to traditional sexual norms. You can write as much soft-core porn as you want but the fact remains that chaste people don’t have as much to worry about as their unchaste counter parts. Oh, I can now hear the snickers of disgust at my “prudishness” and “closed-minded” attitudes. But I read an article recently in AIDS Weekly that Muslim countries tend to have lower rates of STD infection. The reason for this, as the article stated, is our religious practices. Traditional Muslims still hold on to the idea of chastity, marital fidelity and courtship. We believe that sex is a gift from Allah subhana wa ta ‘ala and just like His other blessings, it deserves respect and responsible behavior. Every part of the human body is a precious creation of our Lord and it doesn’t deserved to be referred to with language that often objectifies and disrespects human beings—particularly women.

You would have to be insane not to see the toll that all this “sexual freedom” is taking on Western culture. In fact, sexual modesty is quite revolutionary in a time when the act has been boiled down to a mere exchange of bodily fluids and a quick release of a passing desire. And it’s not just the religious folk who are singing this tune. Writers like Wendy Shalit, though secular in their outlook, condemn the misogyny that is the current sexual environment. Women are allowed to be “sluts,” vixens, riot grrrls and sex toys but they are not allowed to BE women—respectable, caring (and cared for) intelligent women.

As Muslims, we should be proud that most people in our umma have not faced the difficulties that so many “liberated” people are facing. We are prudish, moralistic, “Astagfirullah”- saying and traditional—but we have longer marriages, happier children, happier families and less rates of STD infection. We should not feel bad when people criticize us for being sexuality modest while they themselves can not maintain a successful monogamous relationship for three months.

So don’t fall victim to the extremist agendas. The extreme right that denies all sexual impulses while the men sleep with whomever they want or the extreme left that says anything goes even if that means you are going straight to the free clinic or the abortion doctor (insert obligatory Astagfirullah). Chastity, restraint and moderation are very radical ideas these days. Even radical feminist Germaine Greer once stated that sexual display is pure conformism and what better way to “conform” then to write pornography on a supposedly Muslim website. The idea of women sharing their fantasies with the public is old, clichéd and predictable and when a Muslim woman does it, it sustains some novelty but then it soon wears off. It seems the really radical or “progressive” thing to do is to suggest an alternative to standard norms. Try suggesting abstinence and watch as they recoil in horror at the thought of practicing self control. Western society is slowly learning its lessons and insha’allah, no matter what society conforms to, may we always conform to what Allah subhana wa ta’ala wants for us.

And only Allah subhana wa ta’ala knows best.


Blogger DrMaxtor said...

Awesome article....I love it !

1:00 AM  
Blogger thabet said...

assalaamu `alaykum

Well written post. Over here (UK) even someone like Terence Blacker, a columnist for the London _Independent_ (a liberal rag), was scathing of people who suggest that to bring commercial sex (i.e. pornography) to "oppressed" people is to bring them "freedom". Interestingly, Salman Rusdhie -- a darling of the British liberal literarti -- was the target of his criticism.

My only criticism of the post would be the need for sectarian comments. What is "Wahabi/Victorian"? "Wahhabis" -- for all I could criticise them about -- do not "deny the sexual impulse".

4:19 AM  
Blogger Fulan b Fulan said...

""" Historically, Muslims have always sought the advice of scholars as to what sexual practices were in accordance with Islam."""

There is a whole genre of literature known as `ilm al-ba' concerning the how, when, and what of sex. It was an accepted subject. Imam al-Suyuti wrote on it.

Before him, Imam al-Ghazali gave advice in the Ihya and Ibn Jawzi included quite a bit of advice about sex in his Sayd al-Khatir; his Ahkam al-Nisa includes quite more detail.

Shafi`is and Hanbali scholars talked specifically about men performing oral sex on their partnet (e.g., Fath al-Mu`in and Kashshaf al-Qina`). Imam al-Shafi`i himself in the Umm talked about it being permissible to touch but not penetrate the anus during foreplay.

The books I mentioned range in dates from the 2nd c AH up until the 12th c AH.

""" On their website, there’s quite an interesting display of stories..."""

So, the only alternative to prude is filthy, and the only alternative to modest talk is pornography?

""" We must embrace Western contemporary norms of sexuality where every expression is justified, even *if those expressions go against the commandments given to us by Allah subhana wa ta’ala.*"""

It would be hasty to say that "going against the Command of Allah Most High is the whole point of the PM movement", since it appears that the whole point of their movement is doing away with the Command of Allah. Instead of commanding, He just gives boring and old fashioned suggestions, so just close the door....May Allah protect us.

""" But that begin to change with Freudian psychology"""

Typo: third word should be "began"

The author should check out some of the sites on the Internet that discuss Medieval sexuality. There is some interesting stuff out there, even a book about law and another book giving the proper protocol and penance when a confessor mentions sex acts. Something else you will find is that the European Church and State justified brothels --- preferably outside the city limits --- for the sake of the public good.

Those Christians just cannot get beyond their original sin.

""" ...have high rates of STD infection..."""

Let's not forget to thank the Spanish Conquistadors for bringing back Syphilis from the New World. But then again, rape and pillage have always been acceptable parts of conquest.

""" ...Muslim countries tend to have lower rates of STD infection..."""

The countries with the highest rates are in the Gulf. A Muslim epidemiologist who worked in Saudi Arabia blames it on trips to Thailand.

""" is a gift from Allah subhana wa ta ‘ala..."""

Imam al-Ghazali and others had written that the orgasm gives us something with which we can contrast the sensuous pleasures [sensuous being just one type] of the Afterlife: if the greatest sensual pleasure of the Dunya is this great and the pleasures of the Dunya are nothing compared to the pleasures of the Afterlife, then imagine how even the least pleasure of the Akhira will be!

11:08 AM  
Blogger Ann said...

Great article...

It's interesting that you mention Germaine Greer. As a young feminist, I read her earlier books (and went to a lecture of hers about 30 years ago), and then a few years ago, I read her more recent book "The Whole Woman". From my perspective, she was actually somewhat sympathetic to Muslim women, and her book pointed out a lot of problems with the Western attitudes towards women, women's bodies, etc. Have you read it?

Dr. Maxtor: Are you saying that the rate of STDs in the Gulf is the highest in the world? There are certainly men who go to Thailand for the obvious reasons, but it's also a favorite vacation spot for families.

4:10 PM  
Blogger Ann said...

Sorry, I just realized that this comment (about STDs) wasn't from Dr.Maxtor, it was from Fulan...

4:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Salaam 'Alaikum Ann: I think Fulan means highest in the Muslim world, not in the world.

Does anyone know which nation has the highest STD rate in the world? I wouldn't assume the US, but who knows. I did some research on STDs last month for a scholar, and I was dismayed at the things I read (from the CDC and other straight-from-the-gov't sources).

5:31 PM  
Blogger Fulan b Fulan said...

What I wrote concerns the Muslim world, same as the quoted text.

7:37 PM  
Blogger izzymo said...

Salaam alaikum,

Thank you, everyone, for your coments.

Thebit: Maybe I should remove that. What I meant is the right wing interpretation of sexual behavior and that may or may not be the Salafi/Wahhabi opinion on that. But...a liberal criticized Rushdie. I thought he was the unofficial hero of Western literary liberalism.

Fulan b Fulan, do you have any website information on these topics? The only one of know of is

Ann: I haven't read Germaine Greer but I might because Shaykh Abdul Hakim Murad mentions her in his contentions and other essays. But I have been interested in reading Feminist works to see how these formerly radical ideas are now part and parcel of a huge segment of American society.

11:21 PM  
Blogger Tasmiya said...

Salaam - I'm not sure of the country with the highest prevalence of STD's though here:
gives you a bit of an idea. Also note that these statistics don't include HIV/AIDS

7:33 PM  
Blogger Fulan b Fulan said...

"Fulan b Fulan, do you have any website information on these topics? The only one of know of is"

LivingIslam is a good place to start. Some of what I wrote is in the Hanbali archive---even the stuff from the Shafi`i madhhab. You can also ask Dr Haddad; he's the one who told me about Imam al-Suyuti's work on `ilm al-ba'.

Something we should all keep in mind is that legal behavior and good behavior and not identical, and that good behavior is less culturally monolithic than fiqh. Whether aswering or asking, people tend to smash the two together, making for some hilarious answers.

7:59 PM  
Blogger Fulan b Fulan said...

Excuse me. In the last paragraph I wrote

" behavior and good behavior and not identical..."

it should have read

" behavior and good behavior are not identical..."

My apologies.

8:28 PM  
Blogger DrMaxtor said...

Its ironic that they claim that we are prudish...have these goons looked at Muslim birthrates ? Apparently there are plenty of Muslims engaging in less than prudish behavior in the sanctity of their homes.

11:07 PM  
Blogger Yusuf Smith said...

If we include HIV, the countries with the highest infection rates are Botswana and Swaziland. Zimbabwe and South Africa are not far behind. Basically the infection rate gets less and less the further north you go, and in countries where there's a high Muslim population the infection rate is considerably less. (Although I'm told by people from that part of the world that there are of course Muslims affected by it.)

6:42 AM  
Blogger DrMaxtor said...

Whether one believes HIV was engineered (not entirely conspiracy thoery material considering the mode of HIV reproduction ) in a lab or is a natural born strain, its here to stay, despite all the lip service and research being done.
I've dealt with a lot of AIDS patients and believe me folks what you've read cannot compare to watching a human being waste away in front of your eyes. Even though we have new drugs which delayed the onset of full blown AIDS and made HIV a chronic disease...cases of new infection show no signs of slowing down.
I believe the strength faith and culture can accomplish what drugs cannot, if this terrible disease was isolated long ago we could have destroyed it by now, but it seems education and warnings are not enough for many who play with their lives.

2:39 PM  

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